Deciphering Obama’s “progressive trade agenda”

by Luiza Ch. Savage

Former Dallas mayor, Ron Kirk, Obama’s nominee for US Trade Representative, had his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday. I went through the transcript today looking for clues about Obama’s trade agenda, which remains somewhat fuzzy.

“We seek to restore and build new bipartisan support for a progressive trade agenda for America.” Kirk told the senators. He also said, “I don’t come to this job with deal fever, and we’re not going to do deals just for the sake of doing so.”

Note to Michael Wilson: When he was asked about how he will build support for trade agreements among the US middle class, Kirk mentioned his plan to improve his office’s web site. Perhaps a phone call to Kirk’s head web geek could  solicit a link to these fact sheets put together by the Canadian Embassy that show state by state how many jobs are supported by trade with Canada. How many people know that 35 US states have Canada as their leading export market? Check out this cool map.

The WaPo’s take on Kirk’s testimony was: U.S. to Toughen Its Stance on Trade

Meanwhile, here are a few excerpts that relate to Canada, Nafta, softwood lumber and trade in general:

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana): “The United States has a softwood lumber agreement with Canada that needs to be enforced. What steps will you take to make sure Canada is complying with its obligations?”

Kirk: “Well, as you know, Mr. Chairman, I’ve talked about this with Senator Snowe and others. We have filed a number of cases against Canada with respect to the softwood lumber agreement. We recently got a favorable ruling on that. But the president, in his meeting with the prime minister as well as with the president of Mexico, has made it clear we want to move forward in a much more collaborative way. And our office looks forward to working with you as well as our trading partners to make sure that we do that. And they understand that in order to keep this great relationship going, we all have to play by the rules.”

**

Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa): “…about the NAFTA agreement, let me ask this question. And it will be my final one. If the president does seek to reopen the agreement, will you commit that you will not agree to any increases in or reinstatement of tariffs on U.S. agricultural products, under this trade agreement, if you’re confirmed?”

Kirk: “Senator, like you, I come from a state in which agriculture is very important. But I also come from a state that has a very strong relationship with Mexico. We will proceed, as the president has directed, in a collaborative way with Mexico and Canada to see where we can strengthen NAFTA. And I don’t see the levying of additional tariffs as being in the category of strengthening that agreement.”

**

Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming): Since I came to the Senate 12 years ago, I’ve been working on implementing country-of-origin labeling for American meat products. Congress took special care in the 2008 farm bill to ensure that that program would be consistent with our trade obligations. As you’re probably aware, Canada and Mexico have threatened the United States if we — in challenging the labeling program, this despite the fact that 42 developed nations have similar if not more stringent labeling programs. What efforts would you be willing to make as a U.S. trade representative to uphold our country-of-origin labeling laws?

Kirk: “Well, Senator, as you and I have talked, I think we have an absolute obligation working together, first of all, to give American consumers the assurance that the food that’s in our freezers, that we feed our families is safe. And so I think having a reasonable, thoughtful program to give consumers that assurance is only fair. We will work with the Secretary of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. I think he’s taken a very thoughtful approach to this. We will work, along with his office and the other agencies, to make sure that we advance that interest.”

**

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon): “Mr. Kirk, the middle class today believes that these trade agreements are bad for them. That has been the overwhelming message that members of the United States Senate are getting now when they go home. As one who supported these agreements and looks forward to expansion as a view of the trade policy in the future, what do you plan to do to increase the support of Americans, particularly hard-hit middle-class Americans, so that they see benefits from expansionist trade policy?”

Senator Baucus: “Twenty-three seconds.”

Kirk: “I think there are several things we can do. First, we want to — really want to work with the leadership in Congress to build a true bipartisan support. Secondly, we’re going to be a lot more proactive in using our technology. The USTR website was described to me by one of our young potential staffers as “so 1987.”  Well, one of the things we want to do is to use — utilize technology to tell the good story. And third, as I mentioned to Senator Ensign, I think we can be much more aggressive in working with small to medium-sized businesses…”




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